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Friday, March 06, 2009

Coping with the Recession

LGBT groups and other non-profits are finding ways to survive the economic downturn

By Steve Charing

These are grim times for everybody. Even if you haven’t been laid off or may not be handed the pink slip in the future, you most likely lost a third to a half of your "wealth" since October if you had money tied up in equities and bonds. Confidence is waning; credit is scarce; money is tight.

In this down economy people will spend on what they truly need or want, and everything else will be deferred until their economic circumstances improve. The same goes for businesses, who must cut costs, as there are fewer customers and of those, they are spending less to purchase their products or services. Cutting costs often entails cutting payroll, and with more people laid off, there are fewer customers and less money to be spent. It’s a vicious cycle.

Consequently, charitable and other non-profit organizations, including lgbt organizations, are likely to feel the pinch in the near future. Those individuals who are in financial straits now or fear such a condition are less likely to donate money to these organizations, and businesses will also hold on to their checkbooks.

As in the case of businesses, non-profit organizations depend on a revenue stream for survival. When revenue targets substantially fall short, they may be compelled to cut staff, cut back in advertising, cut programs and spend less on areas that support their mission.

Fortunately, some local organizations are bracing for the economic slide and have been addressing these challenges. They are actively trying to develop strategies to mitigate the economic pain caused by the recession.

"Like everyone we are concerned about the economic downturn and watching for its effects on Chase Brexton and our patients," says David Shippee, Chief Executive Officer of Chase Brexton Health Services, which maintains several offices and clinics in and around Baltimore. "But the bottom line at CBHS is stable and still in the black, in part, because of our long-standing efforts to assure that our sources of revenue are as diverse as possible."

He points out, however, that there has been a noticeable drop-off in individual and corporate giving. "Most recently as we prepare for our annual CBHS gala we are struggling to get corporate support for the event to come close to the levels we experienced in prior years," notes Shippee.

He states that the economic stimulus package includes some funding for healthcare, but also Obama’s initial budget contains increases for HIV/AIDS care through the Ryan White program and also increased funds going to community health centers to care for the uninsured.

"Although these sources only account for 15% of CBHS's revenue, it is hopeful to know that some relief may be likely in this area. It is too soon to determine how much additional support may be coming our way under these two programs."

Shippee explains that increased public or private dollars to help care for the uninsured becomes even more important in a recession. As more people lose jobs, they also lose their health insurance. Many of them turn to community health centers for care. "In the last year, we have seen a 54% increase in the number of uninsured patients being helped by CBHS. Other health centers in Maryland are also seeing an increase in uninsured patient visits, but their average increase is 20%."

The statewide LGBT civil rights advocacy organization Equality Maryland has not yet felt any adverse impact from the national recession. But they are mindful of it and concerned about potential decreased funding.

Equality Maryland regularly holds two major fundraisers during the course of the year, with the next one being the "Night Out for Equality" on June 7. Their planning committee is looking into ways to attract more supporters.

"We're hosting more low cost ticket events, like Equality Rocks!" says new director of development Kevin Walling. "This past January was a fantastic success both financially and in terms of reaching out to new members. House parties, smaller receptions and member-sponsored events are already in the works for the spring and summer."

Walling said he is open to any suggestions and welcomes more people to get involved. You may call him at 301-587-7500 or e-mail kevin@equalitymaryland.org.

Some of these efforts are paying off. A benefit for Equality Maryland as part of "An Evening with Lily Tomlin" at the Lyric Opera House on April 3 has been sold out. It will include an Equality Maryland-only reception with the headliner being part of the festivities.

Unfortunately, not all LGBT organizations are faring as well, especially some national ones. According to reports in the Washington Blade, several have been forced to take measures to deal with the slowing down of donations. For example, Lambda Legal and GLAAD are among those who needed to cut staff and other costs.

And the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lgbt advocacy group, was reported to be considering trimming salaries and holding back a cost-of-living increase this year for some employees to help deal with the economic downturn. Phone calls by OUTloud to HRC to obtain a comment were not returned.

The power of fundraising should not be underestimated even in turbulent economic times. Last month the producers of "Wicked" and 4Good Productions held a star-studded "Defying Inequality Concert" at New York’s George Gershwin Theater that attracted over 400 performers and celebrities. The event raised a whopping $400,000, of which $250,000 were donated by the producers and writers of "Wicked."

The stars included Carson Kressley, Harvey Fierstein, Cyndi Lauper, Sally Struthers, Rue McClanahan, "Wicked" composer Stephen Schwartz, Jane Fonda and Keith Olbermann. Cast members from Broadway's "Spring Awakening," "Billy Elliott," "The Lion King," "Mamma Mia," "Gypsy," among others, also performed.

The organizations that benefited from the fundraiser were the Empire State Pride Agenda, Family Equality Council, the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force, Equality California and Garden State Equality.

The results from this gala and Equality Maryland’s Lily Tomlin event demonstrate that even with a down economy, the stars still shine and people will pay to see them.

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